Revision of Singapore's Statute Book, using "Plain English"

By Neal Kok


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Since 2013, the Legislation Division of The Attorney General’s Chambers has been working on improving and modernising the Singapore statute book, in both its content and its design. This was termed the Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans (PLUS) project. [1] This involved an online public survey to identify areas of improvement, leading to historical versions of legislation and Bills tabled in Parliament becoming accessible through the Singapore Statutes Online platform launched by the Attorney General’s Chambers. [2] The drafters reviewed 500 Acts of Parliament. The PLUS project has since been completed and launched on 31st December 2021.


The purpose of the project was to improve the readability of the law so that Singaporeans can better understand the law, without having to go through a lawyer. [3] Prior to the revision, laws were written for judges and lawyers as its main users, such that legal jargon and Latin phrases in the statutes were expected to be understood. Understandably, this would not have been understood by the general public outside the legal profession. In order to make it accessible, the drafters of the revised statutes thus used Plain English, reducing the use of legal jargon and archaic words.


The objective of the project is in line with the principle of the rule of law. In order to ensure that the law is able to effectively guide the actions of members of society, it has to be made known to them and accessible to them. This requires not only the ability to attain knowledge of it, but also to be understood by them. It is the latter of these two features that the PLUS project achieves. This enables the general public to know where they stand with respect to the law, in turn allowing them to make informed decisions and lead their lives accordingly. This is mutually beneficial for the state and the individual. The individual is able to know how his life may be affected by the law and the state would be able to ensure its citizens are more likely to act in accordance with the law and not claim ignorance.


Despite its benefits, there are risks associated with such a revision. As reported by The Attorney General’s Chambers, the biggest challenge was to not inadvertently change the meaning of the law. [4] An added risk is that it may incorporate the drafters’ own interpretation into the revised statutes. This will confuse the role of the judiciary with that of the legislature, resulting in an added layer of interpretation being added to the Acts of Parliament. Nevertheless, such an evaluation is too early to be concluded, and the following years will be critical to see if the project has remained faithful to the law.





References:

[1] Attorney-General’s Chambers, ‘Plain Laws Understandable By Singaporeans’, <https://www.agc.gov.sg/our-roles/drafter-of-laws/plain-laws-understandable-by-singaporeans> Accessed 29 December 2021

[2] Sso.agc.gov.sg., ‘About Us - Singapore Statutes Online’ <https://sso.agc.gov.sg/About-Us> Accessed 29 December 2021

[3] CNA. 2021. ‘Revised edition of Singapore’s Statute Book, with simpler language of the laws, to launch end-December’, <https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-statute-book-laws-simpler-language-universal-revision-2388911> Accessed 29 December 2021

[4] CNA. 2021. ‘Revised edition of Singapore’s Statute Book, with simpler language of the laws, to launch end-December’, <https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-statute-book-laws-simpler-language-universal-revision-2388911> Accessed 29 December 2021